Widespread protests have erupted in Assam over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
With Assam witnessing shutdowns and massive protests against the Citizen (Amendment) Bill tabled in the Lok Sabha today, the Narendra Modi government is trying to push through a major decision aimed at pleasing its population ahead of the general election next year. It plans to grant the scheduled tribe status to six prominent communities in the state.
"The central government has decided to fulfil a long-pending demand by granting scheduled tribe status to six communities. It was done to secure the future of the Assamese people. As an Assamese, I am proud that Modiji and Rajnath Singhji have done this," State Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told NDTV.
The decision — if implemented — will benefit the Tai Ahom, Tea, Koch Raj Bongshi, Chutia, Moran and Matak tribes, and turn Assam into a tribal state. The move is expected to help the BJP in the Lok Sabha election because the six communities dominate Upper Assam, which accounts for a majority of the state's 126 seats.
The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes reportedly cleared the proposal yesterday. "The centre and state will now work on the modalities of the quantum of reservation because, at present, these communities are listed as other backward classes in Assam," Mr Sarma said.
Although the BJP lost a regional ally — the Asom Gana Parishad — because of its decision to push the citizenship bill, it is confident of holding on to the Hindu and tribal vote bank through the decision to grant tribal status and implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord-1985 (aimed at granting constitutional safeguards to the Assamese people).
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill-2016 seeks to amend the Citizenship Act-1955 to grant Indian nationality to people from minority communities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of stay instead of 12. This would be done even if they don't have proper documentation.